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Happy Halloween! — A Tribute to Spooky Buildings

October 31, 2013

It’s an oldie, but a goodie.  If you’ve been following this blog for more than a year, this post will seem familiar.  But I think it’s good to revisit old classics from time to time, especially on special occasions.  Enjoy this building-centric excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

Happy Halloween to one and all!  Stay safe out there!

haunted fonthill

“There,” he whispered.  “There’s the only house in town worth visiting on Halloween!  There!

“Yeah!” said everyone.

For it was true.  The house was special and fine and tall and dark.  There must have been a thousand windows in its sides, all shimmering with cold stars.  It looked as if it had been cut out of black marble instead of timbers, and inside?  Who could guess how many rooms, halls, breezeways, attics.  Superior and inferior attics, some higher than others, some filled with dust and webs and ancient leaves or gold buried above the ground in the sky but lost away so high that no ladder in town could take you there.

The house beckoned with its towers, invited with its gummed-shut doors.  Pirate ships are a tonic.  Ancient forts are a boon.  But a house, a haunted house, on All Hallow’s Eve?  Eight small hearts beat up an absolute storm of glory and approbation.

“Come on.”

But they were already crowding up the path.  Until they stood at last by a crumbling wall, looking up and up and still farther up to the great tombyard on top of the old house.  For that’s what it seemed.  The high mountain peak of the mansion was littered with what looked like black bones or iron rods, and enough chimneys to choke out smoke signals from three dozen fires on sooty hearths hidden far below in the dim bowels of this monster place.  With so many chimneys, the roof seemed a vast cemetery,  each chimney signifying the burial place of some old god of fire or enchantress of steam, smoke and firefly spark.  Even as they watched a kind of bleak exhalation of soot breathed up out of some four dozen flues, darkening the sky still more and putting out some few stars.

“Boy,” said Tom Skelton.  “Pipkin sure knew what he was talking about!”

“Boy,” said all, agreeing.

They crept along the weed-infested path toward the crumpled front porch.

Tom Skelton alone itched his boney foot on the first porch step.  The others gasped at his bravery.  So, now, finally in a mob, a compact mass of sweating boys moved up on the porch amid fierce cries of planks underfoot, and shudderings of their bodies.  Each wished to pull back, swivel about, run, but found himself trapped against the boy behind, or  in front, or to the side.  So with a pseudopod thrust out here or there, the amoebic form, the large perspiration of boys leaned and made a run and a stop to the front door of the house which was as tall as a coffin and twice as thin.

They stood there for a long moment, various hands reaching out like the legs of an immense spider as if to twist that cold knob or reach for the knocker on that front door.  Meanwhile, the wooden floorings of the porch sank and wallowed beneath their weight, threatening at every shift of proportion to give way and fling them into some cockroach abyss beneath.  The planks, each tuned to an A, or an F, or a C rang out their uncanny music as heavy shoes scraped on them.  And if there had been time and it were noon, they mght have danced a cadaver’s tune or a skeleton’s rigadoon, for who can resist an ancient porch which, like a gigantic xylophone, only wants to be jumped on to make music?

But they were not thinking this.

Henry-Hank Smith (for that’s who it was) hidden inside his black witch’s costume, cried:  “Look!”

And all looked at the knocker on the front door.  Tom’s hand trembled out to touch it.

“A Marley knocker!”

“What?”

“You know, Scrooge and Marley?  A Christmas Carol?” whispered Tom.

And indeed the face that made up the knocker on the door was the face of a man with a dread toothache, his jaw bandaged, his hair askew, his teeth prolapsed, his eyes wild.  Dead-as-a-doornail Marley, friend to Scrooge, inhabitor of lands beyond the grave, doomed to walk this eearth forever until…

“Knock,” said Henry-Hank.

Tom Skelton took hold of Marley’s cold and grizzly jaw, lifted it, and let it fall.

All jumped at the concussion!

The entire house shook.

Its bones bound to ground together.  Shades snap-furled up so that windows blinked wide their ghastly eyes.  Tom Skelton cat-leaped to the porch rail, staring up.  On the rooftop, weird weathercocks spun.  Two-headed roosters whirled in the sneezed wind.  A gargoyle on the western rim of the house erupted with twin snorts of rain-funnel dust.  And down the long shaking serpentine rainspouts of the house, after the sneeze had died and the weathercocks ceased spinning, vagrant whisps of autumn leaf and cobweb fell gusting out onto the dark grass.

Tom whirled to look at the faintly shuddering windows.  Moonlit reflections trembled in the glass like schools of disturbed silver minnows.  Then the front door gave a shake, a twist of its knob, a grimace of its Marley knocker and flung itself wide.  The wind made by the suddenly opened door almost knocked the boys off the porch.  They seized one another’s elbows, yelling.  Then the darkness within the house inhaled.  A wind sucked throughthe gaping hole.  It pulled at the boys, dragging them across the porch.  They had to lean back so as not to be snatched into the deep, dark hall.  They struggled, shouted, clutched the porch rails.  But then the wind ceased.

Darkness moved within darkness.

tuckdevilparade1The excerpt spooked its way here from The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury
Photo by Sabra Smith and was originally Henry Mercer’s Fonthill before it became the House o’ Haunts.
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Allyson permalink
    October 31, 2009 12:04 pm

    Very Sppokkkkeeeyyyyy! I remember several scary houses growing up that we would run like our lives depended on it past for fear that someone or something would come out and get us!!
    Bank in the day, someone would come in and fix them up, like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Now they get torn down to build Mc Mansions!

  2. Sabra Smith permalink*
    October 31, 2009 12:47 pm

    The house was special and fine and tall and dark. There must have been a thousand windows in its sides, all shimmering with cold stars. It looked as if it had been cut out of black marble instead of timbers, and inside? Who could guess how many rooms, halls, breezeways, attics. Superior and inferior attics, some higher than others, some filled with dust and webs and ancient leaves or gold buried above the ground in the sky but lost away so high that no ladder in town could take you there.

    If you haven’t visited Fonthill yet, put it on your list of things to do. The description above is apt — Mercer designed the building hiimself and passageways lead to landing with doors that open on to closets and other rooms and there are stairs that go off in different directions. Even with all the windows, it’s difficult to keep track of where you are in the house (and there’s always the sense that there’s a secret passage nearby…)

    • annefontaine permalink
      November 5, 2009 11:32 pm

      Sounds just like the description of the Colt family’s Big House! I missed this posting on Halloween; Bradbury has a wonderful way with language.

      • Sabra Smith permalink*
        November 5, 2009 11:45 pm

        Isn’t it great the way a spooky house can fire the imagination?

  3. October 29, 2011 3:41 pm

    Great Short story Spoooky House haha :D
    thought you might like my machinima version of Tim Burton’s
    This Is Halloween

    Happy Halloween

  4. Michael Crane permalink
    November 1, 2012 10:27 am

    That is a terrific piece of Halloween prose… and by Ray Bradbury. I think I read over 100 of his sci-fi books in 9th and 10th grade. I remember that Farenheit 451 freaked me out — even more than this does. M

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